Seven Colors of Tragedy
9 Nov 2011 13:38
Dr Behzad Ghaderi, university professor and translator: Tragedy has taken different forms and meanings in the passage of time and different cultures. Today when speaking about tragedy, we should first make clear which tragedy we have in mind ancient Greek tragedy, ancient Rome tragedy, Renaissance tragedy, Neoclassical tragedy of the 17th and 18th centuries in France and Spain, 18th century German tragedy, 19th century Scandinavian tragedy, or the 20th century?
IBNA: Dr Behzad Ghaderi, translator and university professor: Tragedy has taken different forms and meanings in the passage of time and different cultures. Today when speaking about tragedy, we should first make clear which tragedy we have in mind ancient Greek tragedy, ancient Rome tragedy, Renaissance tragedy, Neoclassical tragedy of the 17th and 18th centuries in France and Spain, 18th century German tragedy, 19th century Scandinavian tragedy, or the 20th century?
Ancient Greek Tragedy could not be understood without 'chaos'. In Pre-Socratic era, Heraclitus regarded 'chaos' as amorphous matter from which the world has been shaped. He also believed that there is always a severe tendency towards chaos or formlessness in the apparently well-ordered universe.
The Athenians, on the other side, did not believe in an afterworld: they were not created by gods but they had actually created gods. The Athenians felt the universe were their only chance of being, an existence constantly inclined to chaos. The 'destiny' in Ancient Greek tragedy is partially resulted from this worldview. A balanced man has two wings: exigency (the real) and liberty (the ideal). Exigency bounds human beings and liberty is a tendency towards loosing free of bounds.
Greek Tragedy reflects the call of the ideal man who rebels. Ancient Greek Tragedy speaks about lack or rupture of balance between exigency and freedom. The tragic man is struggling with mysterious unbridle forces so that he may discover the nature of them. The tragic hero moves towards failure but never surrenders. And although he is continuously accepting new changes, he is also inclined to chaos. It could be stated that Ancient Greek Tragedy is a perpetual fight with subversive forces, a fight with no moaning, weeping or entreating; it should rather make a loud cry to intimidate the enemy.
Ancient Greek Tragedy is introversive, whereas Ancient Roman Tragedy is aggressive, bold and extroversive. Ancient Greek tragedy was formed on the decadence of Greece with a bitter and critical look at its national beliefs. Ancient Rome, on the other hand, learnt about the Greek tragedy on the dawn of the empire and since there was no room for judgment, it marginalized the chorals of Greek tragedy or totally removed it. It was based on eloquence and oration with a serious sense of violence and revenge instead of working on dramatic language. Even Shakespeare's drama that was formed at the beginning of the British Empire preferred the Roman type over the Greek.
Renaissance Tragedy was a complicated matter: tragedy in the frame of Christianity! While Greek tragedy had no hope for the other world, the Renaissance tragedy opened up the gates of Hell to tragedy and so was Christian Tragedy born – e.g. Marlowe's Dr Faustus. Gradually tragedy mingled with Protestantism and mysterious forces of the world of Chaos were replaced with forces from the terrestrial world. By controlling these forces Renaissance man could reach virtue and happiness. Goethe's Faustus is perhaps at the far end of this chain that turns to the non-Christian tragedy: instead of going to hell, Mephistopheles becomes terrestrial.
Then the ideal aspect of tragedy – that is when man struggles with superhuman forces – was lost and was substituted with the 18th century Bourgeois Tragedy in Lessing's terms. Man did not appear on stage as a hero, he was actually replaced with kings, princes and princesses. There was no chorus and benefit, greed, and commerce were no longer mysterious enough to be given songs.
Hegel's role in transforming the concept of Greek Tragedy is outstanding as he knew that Greek people's interest in chaos could be interpreted in terms of dialectics. For Hegel, Greek tragedy was the purest form of historical becoming. Hegel said human role in history was tragic; in his view, ancient Greek tragic hero has few personal motivations and he is rather acting based on morality, as in the case of Antigone trying to bury the body of her murdered brother, whereas modern man rather acts upon his personal viewpoints and not a particular ethic.
Hegel the rational idealist paved the way for the emergence of Naturalism in dramatic literature. Therefore, modern tragic drama owes a lot to Hegel. Consider a triangle with Chekhov, Strindberg and Ibsen sitting on its angles: Chekhov's job was to get rid of the canonized tragic form not making any character a hero. Ibsen and Strindberg reconstructed these earthly characters in Hegelian dialectics and this resulted in a new form of tragedy where a bunch of people tried to make a different history, as in Miss July and An Enemy of the People.
Then, other dramatists like O'Neil and Eliot felt they had to revive Greek Tragedy. They reconstructed the essence of ancient Greek tragedy by mixing naturalism, bourgeois tragedy, Hegelian tragedy and the renaissance. But they were criticized by Brecht and Arthur Miller who attacked the concept of catharsis and wrote about contemporary tragic man who is spoiling and spoilt.
However, tragedy did not stop here. A number of our contemporary tragedians were still interested in ancient Greek tragedy. For instance, Howard Barker called theater as Theater of Catastrophe. And whereas Aristotle regarded catharsis as the closing part of a tragedy, Barker just deals with the happenings without probing into their depths and far from the battle of Good and Evil. It seems that ancient Greek tragedy is cast in a state of perpetual 'becoming'.